Digitalisation

Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum launches a UK hub for expertise

Published on 6th Apr 2022

A network of UK regulators' research portal will bring together work on the regulation of digital markets and is likely to be of interest to businesses that operate digitally 

DT_servers

The Digital Regulation Cooperation Forum (DRCF) has launched a new digital regulation research portal. This portal brings together over 80 pieces of recent research into emerging and future digital developments from DRCF members and other regulatory bodies.

Given the rapid digitalisation of business and  the increasing scope of regulations that apply to the digital sphere, these developments will be important to all businesses – not just those operating in the tech, media and comms sector.

Available on the UK government's website, the portal gathers together research published by a range of regulators (beyond solely the DCRF members) on many aspects of digital technology and digital markets. Content can be filtered by the authority that published it, the research area or topic and by date. It promises to be a very useful resource for anyone interested in digital regulation in the UK. 

The DRCF's function

The DRCF is a non-statutory voluntary network created on 10 March 2021 between the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and Ofcom, with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) subsequently joining on 1 April 2021. It was created to support the cooperation and co-ordination of their regulatory approaches in relation to online services, seeking to ensure that there is "coherent, informed and responsive regulation of the UK digital economy which serves citizens and consumers and enhances the global impact and position of the UK". It does not have a decision-making role and does not provide formal advice or direction to members.
The DRCF has the following objectives:

  • Collaborate to advance a coherent regulatory approach to the development and enforcement of digital regulation, with effective and efficient outcomes.
  • Inform regulatory policy-making by drawing on the collective expertise of the DRCF members.
  • Enhance regulatory abilities by pooling knowledge and resources – one of the overarching themes in digital markets is the skills shortage, so the DRCF is keen to maximise the impact of their expertise.
  • Anticipate future developments around emerging digital trends.
  • Promote innovation, including in regulatory approaches to digital markets.
  • Strengthen international engagement, including sharing best practice.

Five areas of focus for 2021/2022

In the year 2021/2022, the DRCF's workplan focused on five key areas for strategic joint work, each with priorities within it:

  • Responding strategically to industry and technological developments – for example, the DRCF members will work with government and stakeholders in relation to "design frameworks". Compliance often needs to be designed into digital systems from the outset and there are various regulatory regimes where this is expected or recommended, often with guidance or principles to follow. This includes "privacy by design" for the UK General Data Protection Regulation, "safety by design" in relation to the new Online Safety Bill, "fairness by design" and wider "choice architecture" to ensure informed consumer choices. Other strands of work concern co-ordinating research and deepening the regulators' collective understanding of the impact of algorithmic processing, digital advertising technologies (working with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and end-to-end encryption.
  • Developing joined-up regulatory approaches Developing joined-up regulatory approaches-DRCF members will collaborate in areas where their work overlaps, including the interface between enforcement of data protection and competition law (led by the ICO and CMA, respectively) and the crossovers between the ICO's age-appropriate design code and Ofcom's oversight of regulation of video sharing platforms and online safety. The DRCF will also assess interactions in the wider digital regulation landscape beyond the DRCF members, including with the ASA, Prudential Regulation Authority, Payment Services Regulator, the Gambling Commission and the Intellectual Property Office.
  • Building skills and capabilities in regulators – the general skills shortage in relation to digital technologies and content is a factor in the DRCF wishing to generate the most value from the expertise within the regulatory world. It envisages secondments between DRCF members, establishing collocated teams, developing a shared centre of excellence and recruiting for specialist, cross-regulator teams. Part of this work involves working with the Alan Turing Institute (the UK's academic centre of excellence for artificial intelligence (AI)) and the UK Office for AI, and supporting the government's AI and Data Science Regulatory Capacity Working Group. 
  • Building clarity through collective engagement – whether engaging with UK stakeholders or internationally through existing international relationships and forums.
  • Developing the functioning and impact of the DRCF itself.

Technology horizon scanning 

On 29 November 2021, the DRCF launched a technology horizon-scanning programme. This programme aims to enable a joined-up approach to be taken with regard to the regulation of developing technologies. As part of this programme, the DRCF identified the following initial priorities:

  • making DRCF members' digital research more easily available;
  • engaging with UK small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the tech start-up community; and
  • accelerating the DRCF members' knowledge in new or rapidly developing digital tech areas. 

The DRCF is planning to hold the first meeting of its technology horizon-scanning programme in spring 2022, where it is proposing to examine immersive technologies (such as augmented or virtual reality). We anticipate that the discussions at that meeting will also consider the metaverse.

Other topics it will consider include cloud computing, privacy-enhancing technologies, distributed ledger (blockchain) technologies, AI including machine learning, quantum technologies, the Internet of Things (including voice assistants and wearables), cybersecurity, advertising technologies and biometric technologies.

Future work

On 8 March 2022, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS ) wrote to the DRCF highlighting the government's priorities for the digital regulatory landscape.

In its letter, the DCMS asked the DRCF to:

  • continue to focus on joining up the regulatory landscape; 
  • provide views on a flexible and innovative approach to digital regulation to boost innovation and growth; 
  • ensure diverse engagement and leverage insight from a wide range of stakeholders; 
  • coordinate horizon scanning (via its technology horizon-scanning programme); and
  • consider how it can support the DCMS's cross-cutting digital policy priorities (of AI governance, online advertising, the implementation of the National Data Strategy, and ensuring cooperation and coherent regulatory approaches to online safety, data and competition policy).

It is expected that the DRCF will shortly publish its work plan for 2022/23. This will provide further guidance on its priorities and planned areas of focus. 

Osborne Clarke comment

The DRCF, if it meets its objectives, will play a welcome role in developing the regulatory landscape for digital technologies and ensuring consistency between the different enforcement bodies, whether their individual focus is around a particular area of law (such the ICO or CMA) or on "vertical" regulation for a particular sector (such as the FCA and Ofcom). The wider co-ordination with other regulators that oversee digital products and services across different sectors is equally welcome.

Digital regulation is increasing the volume of legislation and regulatory frameworks that all businesses must follow. Moreover, digitalisation across all sectors means that the scope of digital regulation is ever-expanding. The initiative taken by this forum to ensure collaboration, co-ordination and consistency between these major UK regulators in their work in digital and digitalised markets will assist a wide range of businesses, whatever their sector.

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* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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